Keynote, Plenary and Invited speakers at Nordic Physics Days 2021

Keynote speakers

Eckhard Elsen. Portrait.

Eckhard Elsen (European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN)

Abstract title:
The LHC – yesterday and tomorrow

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Short Biography:
Particle physicist, Eckhard Elsen held many committee positions, including chairing the LHC experiments committee from 2011-2014. After being awarded a diploma in particle physics at Hamburg University, Eckhard Elsen continued his studies and gained his doctorate in 1981. Elsen’s research, which focused on e+e- collider particle physics, led him to several prominent post-doctoral positions at Hamburg University, Stanford University National Accelerator Laboratory, and Heidelberg University, where he made first contact with CERN as a member of the OPAL collaboration. In 1990 Elsen was promoted to Senior Scientist for the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), a national research centre in Germany that operates particle accelerators. During this time he became the spokesperson for the H1 experiment (an international collaboration which developed and built the H1 detector at the ep-collider HERA at DESY), and later – after a sabbatical at the BaBar experiment at Stanford – project manager for the International Linear Collider (ILC) project team at DESY – when Elsen continued his relationship with CERN.
In 2006 Elsen was made a Professor at Hamburg University, where he taught both general physics courses and accelerator physics and supervises students. During this period, Elsen has also co-authored two books – the most recent on the physics harvest of the LHC Run 1, worked on over 450 publications in various fields and held many committee positions – including chairing the LHC experiments committee from 2011-2014.

The discovery of the Higgs particle, the last missing building block of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, in the early years of LHC operation provides a tool that will be used to seek for traces of New Physics at very high precision. The LHC experiments have conceived an ambitious and longterm upgrade programme that will provide them with the ability to look for the smallest deviation from the established model, e.g. in the decays of the Higgs particle. The overall strategy of Particle Physics has recently been updated.

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Paula Heron. Portrait.

Paula R. L. Heron (University of Washington)

Abstract title:
Enhancing physics learning outcomes: the dual roles of conceptualisation and reasoning

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Short Biography:
Paula R.L. Heron is a Professor of Physics at the University of Washington.  She holds a B.Sc. and an M.Sc. in physics from the University of Ottawa and a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Western University.  She joined the Physics Department at the University of Washington in 1995.  Dr. Heron’s research focuses primarily on student ability to apply what they have learned about the dynamics of point particles in more advanced contexts involving elastic media, rigid bodies, etc.  She has given numerous invited talks on her research at national and international meetings and in university science departments.  Dr. Heron is co-Founder and co-Chair of the biannual “Foundations and Frontiers in Physics Education Research” conference series, the premier venue for physics education researchers in North America.  She has served on the Executive Committee of the Forum on Education of the American Physical Society (APS), the Executive Committee of the Topical Group on Physics Education Research of the APS, the Committee on Research in Physics Education of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and on the ad hoc National Research Council committee on the status and outlook for undergraduate physics education.  She co-chaired the Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs of the APS and AAPT, which produced the report Phys21: Preparing Physics Students for 21st Century Careers.  She also serves as Associate Editor of Physical Review – PER.  She was elected Fellow of the APS In 2007 and in 2008 she shared the APS Education award with colleagues Peter Shaffer and Lillian McDermott.  Dr. Heron is a co-author on the upcoming 2nd Edition of Tutorials in Introductory Physics, a set of instructional materials that has been used in over 200 institutions in the US and that has been translated into German and Spanish.

Why do students make errors on physics problems? Errors that directly contradict what they have been taught? Errors that don’t arise from the failure to remember the correct formula? For the past several decades, physics education researchers have focused on one compelling explanation: students arrive in the classroom with pre-formed ideas about how the world works. Even though they may blend these ideas with those presented in formal instruction, the prior conceptions often win out. According to these accounts, students’ prior knowledge has been built through rational, if imperfect, processes of observation and analysis, and any new or different ideas presented in the classroom must likewise be built, not simply received. Figuring out what ideas students bring with them to the classroom, and how to take them into account, has proven to be a complex, multi-faceted program of research that has significantly influenced physics teaching. However, it is not always the case that students produce incorrect answers through logical inferences based on incorrect or inappropriate premises – often they don’t know why they chose a particular answer, just that it seems right. “Dual-process” theories suggest that their answers might not be based on so-called “slow” thinking, which is deliberate and laborious. Instead they might be based on so-called “fast” thinking, which is automatic and effortless. The basic idea is that students immediately and effortlessly form a first-impression of a physics problem. If this impression is found to be satisfactory, it will be adopted. Otherwise, a deliberate and analytical process ensues. It is believed that this sequence cannot be “turned off.” That is, a first impression will always be formed. If it is attractive, and the benefits of engaging in more effortful thinking are not obvious, then a student may answer incorrectly, masking their conceptual knowledge. In this talk, I will discuss recent efforts to improve both conceptual understanding and reasoning skills. Examples will be chosen from first-year university-level physics.

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Anne L’Huillier. Portrait.

Anne L’Huillier (Lund University)

Abstract title:
From extreme nonlinear optics to ultrafast atomic physics

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Short Biography:
Anne L’Huillier, born 1958 in Paris, defended her thesis in 1986 at the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique, in Saclay, France and was employed there as researcher until 1995. She moved to Lund University, Sweden and became full professor in 1997. Her research is centered around high-order harmonic generation in gases and its applications, in particular in attosecond science. Her current research deals with attosecond source development and optimization as well as with applications, e.g. the measurement of photoionization time delays in atomic systems. She has gotten several awards for her research, e.g. the 2011 L’Oréal-Unesco award for women in science and is member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences since 2004.

Since the beginning of the millennium, physicists know how to generate pulses of light of attosecond duration (1 as= 10-18 s), thus gaining access to this incredibly short time scale. A new physics is opening up, that of the “ultrafast” dynamics of electrons in matter. The duration of the attosecond pulses is of the same order of magnitude as, for example, the characteristic time of the photoelectric effect. This presentation will describe how attosecond pulses are generated when intense laser pulses interact with atomic gases, and their characteristics. We will then show on a few examples how these pulses can be used to investigate fast electron dynamics in atomic photoionization.

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Michel Mayor. Portrait

Michel Mayor (University of Geneva, Nobel laureate 2019)

Abstract title:

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Short Biography:
Michel Mayor was born in Lausanne (Switzerland). Having obtained a master in physics at
Lausanne University, he moved to astrophysics and get interested in the dynamics of spiral
The PhD of Michel Mayor was devoted to the search of evidence of spiral structure in the Milky
Way in the velocity distribution of stars close to the Sun. To test that possibility, at the end of
his PhD he decided to develop a new specific spectrograph to measure stellar radial velocities.
This was the start of his interest in stellar kinematics. This research led to various fields of
interest, among which the dynamics of globular clusters and the study of statistical
characteristics of solar-type binary stars (Duquennoy, Mayor, 1991). He was naturally driven
to study small mass companions to stars analogous to our Sun. By the end of the 1980’s the
evolution of technology was such to allow for the development of a new spectrograph. This
spectrograph, built at the Haute-Provence Observatory, reached a level of precision permitting
to detect extra-solar planets.
Part of a large survey, with Didier Queloz, one of his graduate students, they have detected, in
1995, the planetary companion to the solar-type star 51 Pegasi: this was the first detection of
an exoplanet. This discovery has resulted in the advent of an exciting new research field
“exoplanets”. As a result of constant improvements to his high dispersion spectrographs
Mayor’s work has significantly contributed to the discovery of “super-Earth” planets with mass
greater than that of Earth.
In 2000, Michel Mayor took the lead for the construction of a new spectrograph: HARPS,
optimized to search for very low mass planets. This spectrograph revealed the large occurrence
of the subpopulation of super-Earths on tight orbits, challenging the scenarios of planetary
formation. Apart from his research activity, Michel Mayor initiates a series of advanced level
courses of Astrophysics since 1971, the “Saas-Fee courses”. He was a co-organizer for nine of
these courses. From 1984 to 2007, he was teaching astrophysics at Geneva University for
undergraduate courses at the department of physics as well as post-graduate ones at the
department of astronomy. From 1998 to 2004, Michel Mayor was Director of the Geneva
Observatory. He was also active in ESO (the European Southern Observatory), being the
Chairman of the Scientific and Technological Committee of that organization (1990-92) and
the Swiss delegate to the Council of ESO (2003-2007).
In the frame of the IAU (International Astronomical Union) Michel Mayor chaired the
Commission on the “Structure and Dynamics of the Galactic System” (1988-1991), as well as
the new Commission devoted to “Extra-solar planets” (2006-2009).
Twenty years after the discovery of 51Peg b, Michel Mayor is still very active to detect and
characterize exoplanets, devoting a large fraction of his time as a member of his group of
research as well as inspiring other teams. For example, Michel Mayor was at the origin (with
D. Latham) of the development of a northern copy of the overwhelming HARPS spectrograph
to measure the mass of rocky planets detected by the Kepler space mission. A program focused
on the physics of very low mass planets having allowed numerous scientific publications. He
also gives a large tribute to outreach activities … a direct consequence of the exceptional
interest of the public for that new domain of astronomy.
Since 2007, Michel Mayor is Emeritus Professor at Geneva University. He has been jointly
awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics along with Professor James Peebles and Professor
Michel Mayor.

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Petra Rudolf. Portrait.
Copyright: Photograph by Sylvia Germes

Petra Rudolf (University of Groningen)

Abstract title:
Molecular Motors and Switches at Surfaces

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Short Biography:

Petra Rudolf was born in Munich, Germany. She studied Physics at the La Sapienza, University of Rome, where she specialized in Solid State Physics. In 1987 she joined the National Surface Science laboratory TASC INFM in Trieste for the following five years, interrupted by two extended periods in 1989 and 1990/1991 at Bell Labs in the USA, where she started to work on the newly discovered fullerenes. In 1993 she moved to the University of Namur, Belgium where she received her PhD in 1995 and then quickly moved from postdoctoral researcher to lecturer and senior lecturer before taking up the Chair in Experimental Solid State Physics at the University in Groningen in 2003. Her principal research interests lie in the areas of condensed matter physics and surface science, particularly molecular motors, 2D solids, organic thin films and inorganic-organic hybrids. She has published >240 peer-reviewed articles and 32 book chapters.
Dr. Rudolf is the President of the European Physical Society; she was the President of the Belgian Physical Society in 2000/2001 and was elected member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering, honorary member of the Italian Physical Society, Fellow of the Institute of Physics, Lid van verdienst of the Dutch Physical Society and Fellow of the American Physical Society. For her work on molecular motors she received the 2007 Descartes Prize of the European Commission. In 2013 she was appointed officer of the Order of Orange Nassau by H.M. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Molecular motors and switches form the basis of many important biological processes. In contrast to these solutions chosen by Nature for achieving complex tasks, mankind’s present day technologies function exclusively through their static or equilibrium properties. On can therefore easily anticipate that the controlled movement of molecules or parts of molecules offers unprecedented technological possibilities for the future. In this presentation I shall show how to build molecular engines that allow movements at the molecular level to be coupled to the macroscopic world, e.g. to transport macroscopic objects like drops of liquid over a surface. I shall also discuss self-assembled monolayers of switches that can be addressed with light and charge transfer and demonstrate how such systems can be employed for “read and write” functions.

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Plenary speakers

Saalih Allie. Portrait.

Saalih Allie (University of Cape Town)

Abstract title:
What Colour is a Light Year (joint pleanry lecture with Urban Eriksson)

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Short Biography:
Saalih Allie is Professor at the University of Cape Town where he has held joint positions in the Department of Physics and the Academic Development Programme since 1986. The broad spectrum of his activities carried out across the Faculty of Science includes issues of underrepresentation, access and throughput with regard to South African students from socially and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. His teaching in the Physics Department has been directed primarily at such “non-traditional” students. In 2008, as part of an equity initiative, he established and directed a postgraduate bridging program for Black Physics B.Sc. graduates from across South Africa who wished to pursue studies in Astronomy and Space Science.
Prof Allie PhD was in experimental nuclear physics, but his main focus of research has been in PER, in particular with regard to the following areas: laboratory work and the teaching of measurement and uncertainty, writing in physics, and the role of context, language and socio-emotional factors with regard to “backstage cognition”. More recently he has expanded his PER interests to include Astronomy and establishing the Physics and Astronomy Education Research (PhAsER) group at UCT.
Prof Allie worked with the PER group at the University of Maryland during an extended sabbatical (2004-06) and was a Harvard-Mandela Fellow in 2000. He represented South Africa on the International Commission on Physics Education (2009-2011) and is a past member of the editorial board of PRPER. He is presently co-director of the National Astrophysics and Space Science Programme for the Department of Astronomy.Urban Eriksson, is Docent (Associate Professor) in Physics with specialisation in Physics Education Research (PER) at Lund University. He is also the director of the National Resource Centre for Physics Education (sv. Nationellt ResursCentrum för Fysik, NRCF) and the scientific leader for Lund University’s Physics Education Research (LUPER) group. With a background as an upper secondary physics teacher, he has taught physics and mathematics at adult education and IB schools. For 24 years he worked at Kristianstad University where he taught and developed many physics and astronomy courses over the years, in particular those related to teacher education. During this period he did his PhD as a combination between astronomy and astronomy education research (AER) at Uppsala University. This led to international recognition within the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and he was offered, and accepted, to be chair for the international working group for AER, learning an international team of researchers to review and direct future efforts on the international arena for AER.

While empirical data underpins both Physics and Astronomy Education Research theory helps in both interpreting these data and guiding future activities. In this two part presentation we briefly outline two theoretical approaches that at first “touch” appear to be at two opposite ends of the education theory spectrum; Embodied Cognition and Social Semiotics. We show how these two approaches can be used in the context of learning Astronomy to inform understanding of university student engagement with regard to (1) astronomical distances and (2) interpreting visual representations involving astronomical distances.

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John Airey. Portrait.

John Airey (Stockholm University and Uppsala University)

Abstract title:
Teaching and Learning Physics with Disciplinary-specific Resources

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Short Biography:
Dr. John Airey is a Senior Lecturer in University Science Education at Stockholm University and a Reader in Physics Education Research at Uppsala University. He currently coordinates a four-year Swedish Research Council project comparing physics teacher training in four countries (Sweden, Finland, Singapore and England). He is also part of a second research project from the Swedish Research Council examining the relationship between semiotic resources, interactive engagement and variation theory in the teaching and learning of university science. John’s research interests focus on the use of language and other semiotic resources within the discipline of physics.

As physicists we have been extremely successful in modeling the world around us. This success is in no small part due to the creation of generally accepted ways of describing the world using a range of disciplinary resources. Physicists use a wide range of resources to communicate physics knowledge (e.g. mathematics, graphs, diagrams, spoken and written language, hands-on work with laboratory equipment, etc.). Many of these resources are highly specialized and have been developed and refined into their present form over time. It is the appropriate coordination of these different resources that allows complex physics meanings to be made and shared. Experienced physicists naturally maintain coherence as they move from one resource to the next in order to solve a physics problem. For students, however, learning to appropriately use physics resources in this way is a challenging task.
This presentation addresses the critical role that resources play in the teaching and learning of physics. Research that has been carried out in this area will be summarized and a number of theoretical constructs that have been developed in the Uppsala Physics Education Research Group will be presented and illustrated using empirical data. The consequences of this research work for teaching and learning physics will be discussed.

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Urban Eriksson. Portrait.

Urban Eriksson (Lund University)

Abstract title:
What Colour is a Light Year? (joint pleanry lecture with Saalih Allie)

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Short Biography:
Urban Eriksson is Docent (Associate Professor) in Physics with specialisation in Physics Education Research (PER) at Lund University. He is also the director of the National Resource Centre for Physics Education (sv. Nationellt ResursCentrum för Fysik, NRCF) and the scientific leader for Lund University’s Physics Education Research (LUPER) group. With a background as an upper secondary physics teacher, he has taught physics and mathematics at adult education and IB schools. For 24 years he worked at Kristianstad University where he taught and developed many physics and astronomy courses over the years, in particular those related to teacher education. During this period he did his PhD as a combination between astronomy and astronomy education research (AER) at Uppsala University. This led to international recognition within the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and he was offered, and accepted, to be chair for the international working group for AER, leading an international team of researchers to review and direct future efforts on the international arena for AER.

While empirical data underpins both Physics and Astronomy Education Research theory helps in both interpreting these data and guiding future activities. In this two part presentation we briefly outline two theoretical approaches that at first “touch” appear to be at two opposite ends of the education theory spectrum; Embodied Cognition and Social Semiotics. We show how these two approaches can be used in the context of learning Astronomy to inform understanding of university student engagement with regard to (1) astronomical distances and (2) interpreting visual representations involving astronomical distances.

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Noah Finkelstein. Portrait.

Noah Finkelstein (University of Colorado Boulder)

Abstract title:
Physicists Engagement in Transforming Higher Education: One Course at a Time

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Short Biography
Noah Finkelstein is a Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and conducts research is in physics education, specifically studying the conditions that support students’ interests and abilities in physics – developing models of context. In parallel, he conducts research on how educational transformations get taken up, spread, and sustained.
Dr. Finkelstein is a PI in the Physics Education Research (PER) group and a co-director of CU’s Center for STEM Learning. He co-directs the national Network of STEM Education Centers, is building the STEM DBER-Alliance, and coalitions advancing undergraduate education transformation. He is involved in education policy serving on many national boards, sits on a National Academies’ roundtable, is a Trustee of the Higher Learning Commission, is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and a Presidential Teaching Scholar and the inaugural Timmerhaus Teaching Ambassador for the University of Colorado system.

Significant, perhaps unprecedented, attention is being paid to the needs for transformation within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at the undergraduate level. This talk examines how physics is positioned to contribute to and shape these discussions. I review both the opportunities and need for change along with experimental work at the individual, the course, and the departmental scales. These efforts are grounded in a detailed examination of a modern physics course, and how it is designed: to promote student learning and engagement broadly, to build a more inclusive and equitable environment, and to be sustained by linking with broader educational change initiatives, such as shifting how we evaluate teaching effectiveness.

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Michael C. Wittmann. Portrait.

Michael C. Wittmann (University of Maine)

Abstract title:
Finding Deep Physics in Unexpected Places

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Short Biography:
Michael C. Wittmann is Professor of Physics and Cooperating Professor of STEM Education at the University of Maine. He studies teachers’ knowledge of content, noticing of students’ ideas, and responsiveness in the classroom, in the context of acceleration, force, and energy. Past projects have included students’ understanding of waves, energy, quantum physics, coordinate systems, and integration, researchers’ observations and models of their observations of student thinking (e.g., item design in surveys and methodological issues in video analysis), and models of learning that include the human body (e.g., embodied cognition) and their connections to schema theories (e.g., the resources framework). Recent work in theory development has focused on mechanistic reasoning and the application of a knowledge in pieces model designed for individual cognition to a group learning setting. For his innovative efforts in professional development and his work on building the PER community, he was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2015.

Though physics education research in the United States has typically studied university student knowledge and learning, my work in the past decade has focused on eighth grade physical science. In this talk, I will describe studies that indicate that physics reasoning at this grade level is rich, complicated, and full of skills that are essential for reasoning in more advanced areas of physics, as well. I will focus on the teaching of energy, the way we reason with time, and the role of mechanistic reasoning. Because of the nature of the project in which this work happened, we were able to document teachers’ reasoning in detail. An important part of this work was that teachers felt safe to also be learners. By creating a safe learning space for teachers, we were able to help them learn the content differently, listen better to each other’s ideas, and thus practice the skill of listening to their students’ ideas.

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Invited speakers

Confirmed speakers for the Atomic molecular and optical physics sessions:

Jakob Bengtsson, Lund University, Sweden
Vidar Gudmundsson, University of Iceland, Iceland
Dag Hanstorp, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Sebastian Hofferberth, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
Jana Jagerska, Arctic University of Norway, Norway
Markus Metsälä, University of Helsinki, Finland
Arri Priimägi, Tampere University, Finland
Timur Shegai, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Irina Sorokina, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway
Henrik Stapelfeldt, Aarhus University, Denmark
Anders Wallin, VTT MIKES Metrology, Finland


Academic Conferences
Box 7059
750 07 Uppsala, Sweden
Phone: + 46 (0) 18 67 10 03

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Important dates

December 2020: Abstract submission opens
16 February 2021: Registration opens
13 April 2021: Deadline for abstract submission
2 June 2021: Deadline for Early bird registration